Recurring drought, insufficient hygiene and ongoing regional conflict are driving a deadly outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) across the Horn of Africa, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reported today.
WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva that more than 50,000 cases of AWD have been recorded in the region this year, resulting in over 700 deaths in Djibouti and Somalia.
A clinical form of deadly diarrhoeal disease, AWD can last several hours or days, depriving the body of water and salts that are necessary for survival. Most people who die from diarrhoea succumb to severe dehydration and fluid loss.
Pointing to reports from the health ministry in Djibouti, Mr. Jasarevic said the incidence of AWD had rapidly spread across the country, more than doubling since last year with 5,000 cases announced in 2011 alone. He noted that the number of cases was likely to be under-reported as not all were being detected.
But Mr. Jasarevic emphasized that prevention and contingency planning from WHO and the health ministry was already having an impact in Djibouti, with both entities providing training for health workers, pre-positioning oral rehydration salts and essential medicines, and chlorinating and monitoring water supplies. WHO had also supplied five emergency kits for diarrhoea and cholera, and they will arrive shortly, he added.
The spread of AWD was being facilitated by the overall situation in the Horn of Africa, Mr. Jasarevic said, as recurring drought in both Djibouti and neighbouring countries was weakening the population and exposing it to contagion.
He also noted that 54,000 cases of AWD had been reported in south-central Somalia, resulting in 795 deaths, while the outbreak of the disease was also on an upward trend in the all five refugee camps at the Dadaab complex in Kenya.